Weight watchers

5-4-01, 4:45 p.m.

Updated: 5-4-01, 8:15 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

A year ago at minicamp, the Bengals were horrified about the condition of their two starting tackles. Rod Jones on the left side and Willie Anderson on the right hovered upwards of 350 pounds.

Anderson's workouts had been hampered by knee and foot problems, and Jones was slow to recover from arthroscopic knee surgery.

But when this minicamp opened Friday, Jones showed up at a svelte 317 pounds and Anderson arrived at 341, on schedule for 330 when trainin g camp opens July 20.

The problem is, Jones also lost his starting job, which went to former Dolphins Pro Bowler Richmond Webb on Monday when the Bengals signed him to a three-year, $9 million deal with a $1 million signing bonus.

"No comment. No reaction to that," Jones said. "I'm just waiting to see myself. Then I'll be able to say something about it."

What Jones could say is that he isn't calling his program a diet, but "a life change; a change in lifestyle to lengthen my life."

He's working with a trainer in New Orleans and is breaking up his regimen into three periods a day: running in the morning, lifting weights in the afternoon, and more cardiovascular work at night.

"And you have to watch your intake," Jones said. "I eat meat three times a week, mostly chicken and some fish. The other days it's vegetables, salads, some fruit in the morning."

Anderson has dropped 15 pounds from 356 in late February and is doing more running than he ever has. He's got a $250,000 annual weight incentive for 340 once the season starts, but he wants to play 10 pounds lighter.

"I want to drop 30 pounds, but I want to do it the right way," Anderson said. "I'm big, so if I lose it fast, I'm going to lose some strength. I think playing at that weight will help me as I get older."

WEBB SIGHTING: The signing of Webb was heard 'round the Bengals locker room. Quarterback Jon Kitna exulted when he saw the news on ESPN last Monday, defensive end Kevin Henry remembered some duels, and rookie defensive right end Justin Smith nodded and said, "I guess so," when told the practices would be interesting.

"He's really a physical guy," said Henry, the former Steeler. "We didn't play them a lot, but I remember him as a pretty good run blocker and pass protector."

Webb, 34, spent some time chatting with Henry and former Dolphins teammate Scott Mitchell before the Bengals began their team meetings Friday night. The man who has spent all 11 of his seasons in Miami got used to his new locker, which is next to his 36-year-old backup, John Jackson.

As befitting the team's dean, Jackson got the locker next to a wall that allows him to sit in a chair.

But when it comes to games won in the NFL, no one in this room has seniority on Webb. He's never played on a losing NFL team during a stretch the Bengals haven't had a winning season since his rookie year of 1990.

"You have to have good coaching and players," Webb said. "Everybody has to join together to have the attitude to win from the top on down. I think they have it here. It's starting in the right direction. I think it will gradually come. I can't say we'll win the Super Bowl next year, but I've got a positive feeling coming in here that we'll do much better than they did last year."**

QB TALK:** Kitna didn't blink when he heard another playoff quarterback had joined the derby with him and Akili Smith in Mitchell.

In fact, Kitna, a NFL Europe veteran, has been anxious to talk to Mitchell about his trailblazing days for the Orlando Thunder of the World League in 1992.

"He was one of the first guys to start that for quarterbacks," Kitna said. "When you get to know me, you'll find out that nothing bothers me. Hey, I came into the league as an undrafted free agent. I'm just happy to get a chance."

Mitchell basically said the same thing: "If the best guy is playing, I have no problem with it and I'll be behind the guy all the way. And I think they know that and that's why they brought me back."

**DEPT. OF WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN:

Bengals defensive end Reinard Wilson, the last Cincinnati first-round draft pick who was supposed to become a sackmaster, is rooting for Justin Smith to do what he would still like to do.

Get to the quarterback. And Wilson thinks Smith, a defensive end from Missouri the Bengals took with the fourth pick, will have a better shot than he did four years ago.

"I think he'll have an easier time getting used to it than I did coming in because he's playing the same position that he did in college," Wilson said. "For me, it was a big switch and I didn't get back to my old position until (1999)."

The Bengals drafted Wilson, Florida State's all-time sack leader as a defensive end, as the 14th player in the 1997 NFL Draft and made him an outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment.

But Wilson couldn't adjust to dropping into pass coverage or rushing the quarterback without dropping into a three-point stance. He has just 15 career sacks and is now mainly a third-down player.

But the Bengals still feel he can be effective in that role and haven't been quick to take him out of the mix even though he's going into the last year of his contract. They also like his try-hard attitude.

"I hope he comes in and gets 10 sacks," Wilson said of Smith. "That's exactly what we need, and if he does it, I'll be happy for him and the team."

With the drafting of Smith and the free-agent signing of left end Kevin Henry, Wilson looks to be locked in a fight for the roster with Jevon Langford.**

MCGEE READY:** Tight end Tony McGee is ready to do all the minicamp drills after missing the last two games with a broken ankle. The nine-year man sounded and looked in fine fettle after a productive offseason.

"I really worked on my explosion with the ankle and it feels strong," McGee said. "It's the most I've caught the ball in any offseason. I feel pretty sharp."

That's because for the first time he can remember, he lived a post pattern away from a quarterback. He turned out to be Mitchell and they hooked up twice a week and will make it three days a week in June in Orlando, Fla.

McGee will have some more help next year, when Vikings Pro Bowl quarterback Daunte Culpepper is expected to move near him. Mitchell actually lives next to former Bengals quarterback Jeff Bake, but Blake spends much of the offseason throwing with the Saints in New Orleans.

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